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Fearfully Un-afraid

“Your fear is what cripples you.”

His words cut through the night that lay at the end of what seemed an endless day. I burrowed deeper into the darkness that blanketed us, avoiding his meaning. Just beyond, a light calmly glimmered on the wall, as if to nod in electronic confirmation. My computer, now in sleep mode; sleeping, yet weighted with the work I had still to do. What was taking me so long? Several projects — some for work, some for a non-profit agency — had lined my screen. It was technical work. Creative work. Logistic work. The kind of work I had craved and been denied. Now, when it seemed God had at last opened some doors…

Why did I hesitate?

I thought again of my husband’s words. “Your fear is what cripples you.”

But, surely not. I? Of all people, not I! Not cut of a timid cloth, I had always been noted for boldness. When had I become so fearful? Still, I recognized him as the voice of my greatest earthly spiritual authority. Perhaps God had chosen to speak through him.

Yes. I was afraid He had.

This morning as I opened God’s Word, my eyes fell across the pages and His Spirit began to trace the outlines of His message to me.

Matthew 17:4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If You wish, I will make three tents here, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

Peter’s mistake lay in the assumption that the “good” lay in his willing service, in the “good” that he might bring to God. But the good actually had nothing to do with him; rather, it was good because He had brought them there. It was good because He was there.

“He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” (v 5)

How interesting that the call to “listen to Him” came just as Peter was still speaking. In other words, stop telling Him what you are willing to do for Him; stop talking and listen.

“When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’” (v 6-7)

Obviously I have much study — much “listening” — before I will grasp something of the message, but as I ponder these verses I am reminded that there is a fear that inspires and a fear that incapacitates; both involve the direction of the soul’s focus. One inspires wonder — reverence and a feeling of awe. It is the helplessness of one who knows that his hope does not lie in any good he brings to God. He knows his only hope lies within the grasp of God. He fears the hand of God because it is sovereign; he loves His hand because it is nail-scarred. This is the fear of the soul whose gaze is God-ward.

The other sort of fear incapacitates. Directed toward man — self-expectation, human approval, etc. — it discourages where it frightens, destroys where it does terrify. There is no grateful awe because there is no real hope, only the ruin that accompanies a shattered and confused faith. (See Deut. 1:21 for an example of God’s warning against this brand of idolatrous “dismay.”)

“And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” (v 8)

That’s the key isn’t it? To lift up our eyes “and see no one but Jesus only.” It sounds simple enough, but the work of the thing is the labor of a lifetime.

When Jesus took His disciples up the mountain, He was transfigured, and their faith was transformed by the sight of Him. Terror dashed them to the ground (and who could blame them?!) But grace came and touched them; faith would raise them up. And later on, after they had witnessed their God writhing on a tree, dying, and with Him the previous three and a half years’ store of hopes, He would come again. He would again transform a band of cowering disciples, replacing their fear with a boldness that rested in the Godward fear of their risen Redeemer.

And so I hold out hope. That He can, that He will, change me. That He will redirect my gaze from the glass prison of self-imposed expectation, shifting my eyes heavenward, to the limitless power of His own nail-pierced hand.

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